Lessons in 'virulent hypocrisy' from Rogers

February 18, 2021

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Evidently jealous of all the bad press Bell has been getting lately, Rogers decided the other day to grab a share of the attention by taking a shot at a non-profit consumer group.

In response to Open Media’s #PayItBack petition, which is demanding that big telcos return the hundreds of millions of tax dollars they’ve unnecessarily claimed in Covid labour subsidies, Rogers’ senior vice-president of government and regulatory affairs Ted Woodhead lashed out online, accusing the consumer advocacy group of “virulent hypocrisy:”


Open Media, which runs on donations from individual members, organizations and businesses including TekSavvy, had to gently explain what hypocrisy actually means – that there’s nothing wrong with a company or organization taking the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy if it’s needed to prevent layoffs. But doing so while posting big profits, paying out dividends and then cutting jobs anyway, and then accusing others of acting in bad faith… well, that’s, as Woodhead might put it, “a new low.”


Rogers has done all of that. The company took $82 million in CEWS – add in Bell and Telus and the total comes to nearly a quarter-billion dollars. Rogers also recently posted full-year net profit of $1.5 billion on revenue of $13.9 billion, paid out more than $1 billion in dividends and cut more than 200 jobs, according to the Toronto Star. Bell and Telus also posted big profits and raised dividends while Bell recently laid off hundreds of workers. Rogers also had $5.2 billion lying around to acquire the Canadian assets of Cogeco in a bid the rival ultimately rejected in October.

Not to be outdone, Telus chimed in on Open Media's petition too. In regards to Big Telecom's CEWS gobbling, Jill Schnarr, Telus's chief social innovation and communications officer, asked “So what’s the problem?” before adding that the furor around it was "fake news."

If these responses from Big Telecom executives are any indication, Canadians will never get their tax dollars back. Unlike numerous profitable companies around the world that have returned public subsidies in the face of growing backlash – as in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand – Canada’s big telcos have no shame and are used to acting with impunity.

The irony about hypocrisy is that if anyone knows it, it should be Rogers.

Like every telecom company and public utility in Canada, Rogers requires access to infrastructure owned by other entities in order for its own networks to function. In a blog post penned earlier this month by none other than Woodhead, the company ironically complains about unfair treatment it gets from infrastructure owners.

Woodhead points out that historical phone companies such as Bell and Telus benefited from protected, regulated monopolies for decades and were able to use those advantages to build big, expensive networks. Companies like Rogers, which started out as cable TV providers, did not spend on the same pole and duct networks "as it did not make sense to build duplicate infrastructure." Instead, they attached their own equipment to existing infrastructure and paid the owners, which included the phone companies but also hydro utilities and municipalities, fees for doing so.

But those entities aren't treating Rogers right, Woodhead writes:


Many of these owners view those who wish to attach telecom equipment to their infrastructure as revenue opportunities rather than as an opportunity to partner in providing services that are critical to Canadians. This infrastructure is a scarce resource and those who need to attach their equipment often pay dearly to use it.

The CRTC requires Bell and Telus to share their poles and ducts with competitors like Rogers and has outlined rates and rules. However, this has not prevented Bell and Telus from making it difficult for others, in many case delaying approvals, which slows down the expansion of service. Recognizing this problem, the CRTC has called for a review of these rules.

Many of the hydro companies (particularly those in Ontario) have dramatically increased the fees they charge to use their infrastructure, looking to increase revenues in an effort to reduce electricity rates. We also face challenges with municipalities, who can charge whatever they want — often rates are very high — for use of their street furniture (e.g. lamp posts, traffic standards, bus shelters). When you add up the costs to access this vital infrastructure, it deters or delays much needed expansion and upgrades at a time when Canadians depend on staying connected more than ever.


If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because Rogers is constantly guilty of the same obstructionism, regulatory gaming and rent seeking with wholesale-based internet service providers such as TekSavvy.

The latest example is found in a 2019 CRTC verdict, where the regulator ordered Rogers and other big telcos to dramatically lower the inflated wholesale access rates they had been charging smaller ISPs. The CRTC said this behaviour was “very disturbing.”

Rogers and the others continue to delay that order with appeal after appeal, kneecapping competitors and keeping Canadian internet prices among the highest in the world. The same goes for wholesale access to gigabit networks, which the CRTC ordered in 2015, but is still not in place thanks to similar gaming and delays.

Woodhead has not been shy in disparaging wholesale-based ISPs – companies that, like millions of Canadians, are Rogers' customers at the end of the day – likening them to parasitic eel-like creatures:


Whether it's taxpayer funds or wholesale access to competitor infrastructure, the old saying rings true when it comes to "virulent hypocrites:" it takes one to know one.

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